Room Four

By Anna Kander

Alice is the youngest girl in Room 4. I, the woman eldest. She misses part of the fall when she goes into the hospital, suicidal.

I commute hundreds of miles to the counseling school where I’ll finish training. My job supports me, though bosses probably guess that I’ve left the first school after the scandal.

(teacher student teacher)

The old teacher was too close. The new school is too far. Everything is a matter of distances.

The old school battens hatches, but I jam my foot in the last closing door. Instead of my final class in counseling, I take my first class in creative writing—Building B, Room 4.

At last, Alice returns.

She bares her bright scars to the class in a group notice like a wedding invitation or a graduation announcement. She says, “I had to tell my roommates.”

Later, she reveals that she was raped.

Alice is slight, thin, and small; even her skull seems delicate. Her hair evolves: from a dark mohawk to a bleached mohawk, tipped Barbie pink.

The day Alice scoots her desk toward me, across the long room, the mohawk is gone. Her hair is shorn to a spiky brown cap that shines like an otter’s pelt.

“Read your drafts to each other,” the teacher says. “Hear your story from someone else.”

“It’s a draft until you lift the pen,” she says. “It’s a draft until you’re dead.”

A week after Alice returns from the hospital, I email all seven “Alices” in the directory. “I’m glad you felt safe to tell us,” I write. “If you need me, I’m here.”

“Class” Alice doesn’t answer. Another Alice does. “I’m so sorry,” she writes back. “I’m not the person you’re looking for.”

In class, Alice draws her desk to me and smooths papers beneath her fingers. “I’ve never shared this with anyone,” she says. “You’re the first person to read this.”

She hands me a thick, spiral notebook—it weighs in my hands.

There are instructions for reading. Alice turns past class notes, opening her book to the last page. She shows me the last page, front and back, then shows me the second-from-last page.

“Read one, then two,” she says. “Three, then four. This is how I write.”

From Alice, I learn to look. At first, her book seemed a stretch of blank pages. “Stop! There’s nothing to see.” We hide stories behind paper fortresses.

I begin.

The text is new. I do my best to honor it with resonant speech and pauses, breathing life into fantastical places and names.

Parents are gods.

(teachers are gods)

Children, rescued, are wolves who sometimes grow into men.

It’s a telling of Romulus and Remus.

Alice’s handwriting is printed in pencil, a childlike scrawl littered with spelling mistakes. I step through each with purpose, not-noticing. She corrects me when I guess wrong.

There are no eraser marks.

At page four, I look at Alice for permission to continue. She nods, and I turn to page five. There are many ways to do the caring that is counseling.

(teacher student teacher)

When classes began, Alice filled our discussions. She could talk sixty minutes in three hours. With cautious encouragement from the teacher, she has grown silent.

“This is the start of a longer story,” Alice says. “I’m not finished.”

I hold the paper delicately, at its edges, careful not to smudge.


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